Triple Play

“We pulled out every piece of playground equipment we had. We didn’t have any safety surfacing or any equipment within ten years of age, and those more recent additions were only the animal hoppers. If something needed repair we had to bring it to the machine shop and have them make something up to make it work, since many of the old parts were no longer available,” says Griffin.

“We eliminated swings and went with modular structures, since they have low maintenance and few repairs and come with long warranties. Everything we do we look at whether or not our guys will be able to take this on and do the same quality job we do with everything else and not neglect anything we have. If not, what are our options? Because we know bringing additional staff on is not an option.”

This translates to everything else, like walking trails, which are designed with drainage, maintenance and their future care in mind.

Additionally, one feature can tie into another through a grant application, such as Natchitoches did with the Rapides Foundation (www.rapidesfoundation.org).

The foundation provided a grant for a walking trail and a playground renovation. The foundation has since developed a specific grant for this application based on its experience with Natchitoches.

In all, nine playgrounds were replaced and two new ones added.

Both city pools are being renovated, with new filtration systems, new roofs on the structures, new decking and fencing. One pool is being converted into a sprayground. The second pool will be renovated, while the adjacent baby pool will be turned into a sprayground as well.

“We won’t need lifeguards for the sprayground, just someone certified in First Aid and CPR as a site manager. That should save us about $20,000 a year in staffing and chemicals. In five years it will pay for itself,” says Griffin.

“We know the concept we want, just not the exact equipment right now — but it will be one of the ten companies on the bid list. The citizens will like it, and it has less liability and overhead. You can’t continuously have an increase in your tax base, so I look for things that are economical in the long run that our citizens would like. They like a place for their kids to go and play in the water and not worry about them. Our baby pools are not functional. When we asked them whether they wanted a spray ground or a renovated baby pool, we never got baby pools as an answer.”

Other recent additions include new CXT restrooms for a park and a bevy of maintenance equipment, like mowers, trucks, trailers, front-end loaders, four-wheelers and other utility vehicles.

“In the past three years we’ve probably put in the neighborhood of $500,000 into our park system, which is probably about as much as what’s been spent in the last 30 years,” says Griffin.

Round Robin

Besides creative financing and aggressive grant searches, Natchitoches has ramped up its community sports leagues and special event/tournament promotions.

Griffin reports that numbers have doubled each year in every sport. For example, youth flag football went from 60 to 125 to 250 participants in the first three years, with similar growth numbers in adult leagues.

“We get 30-40 of those political-style signs printed up every year for basketball, football, softball and any event we’re doing that’s coming up. We have them posted at all the key intersections and at the businesses that support us. We probably get more success out of that than we do through other advertising venues,” explains Griffin.

“We send out about 8,000 flyers to the schools for each youth sport and use a different color form for each school we send them out to, so we know that when we’re not getting a particular color form back to put signs up in that area. You’re depending on someone else to do the work for you when you send the forms, and this way the parents can see it themselves if the forms aren’t being passed out in their children’s school.”

Perhaps Natchitoches’ greatest success has been in its ability to attract special events and tournaments to town, as well as hosting its own events. Griffin had been, and is involved with traveling tournaments, so he was able to bring a number of them to town, which helped jump-start the tournament business.

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